The Spirit Moves Her

Jamie Korngold, the Adventure Rabbi, seeks the sacred in God's outdoor gym.

After a quick detour to Washington state, she relocated to Snowbird, Utah, to fill a gaping spiritual hole that had been gnawing at her -- more big powder days. She took several jobs -- sushi chef, EMT -- that all had one thing in common: firm evening hours so that she could ski all day.

The next stop was Japan, where she went to teach English for a summer to earn enough money for a ski pass for the upcoming winter. At least that was the plan. Soon after arriving, though, she found a guitar in someone's garbage. "Space is at a premium in Japan, so they can't buy more stuff; they just buy better stuff," she explains. "Foreigner dumpster- diving trips are great."

One night, she and some friends wanted to go out on the town but realized they were broke. So Jamie volunteered to play her guitar on a street corner for a few minutes and collect some pocket change. After a half-hour, she had collected enough to buy herself and all her friends drinks and dinner.

Saturday the rabbi worked out: Jamie Korngold, aka the Adventure Rabbi.
Saturday the rabbi worked out: Jamie Korngold, aka the Adventure Rabbi.

Suddenly, teaching English seemed a colossal waste of time. She stopped by a few karaoke bars, figured out what English-language songs the Japanese liked to hear (mostly Beatles) and began stationing herself on corners. On good nights, she took home as much as $400. The success inspired her to flirt briefly with an exciting new career.

"I thought I was really good," she says. "I was going to come back here and be a rock star. But then I figured out they were only giving me so much money because I was a blonde."

In 1991, after nearly a decade of looking for kicks, Jamie finally settled on a career: massage therapist. She packed up her belongings and moved to Boulder, which had a great massage school, as well as superb ski-area access. She graduated the next year and moved to Vail, where, thanks to flexible hours and the high demand for muscle relaxation, she began settling into a satisfying life of deep-tissue treatments and awesome Rocky Mountain pow.

Although she hadn't always attended synagogue regularly, Jamie remained connected to Judaism. Once settled in Vail, she began attending lay services. It was an inexperienced congregation, and soon she was helping to lead the services.

Occasionally, it was by the seat of the pants. She had friends back East leaving the melodies of chants and songs on her answering machine so she could lead the Vail Jews on Saturdays. But Jamie turned out to be a popular spiritual leader; after a while, some members of the congregation approached her and asked her to consider attending rabbinical school.

By then, the massage business had grown stale, anyway. Though a good massage was, technically, helping people, Jamie had already begun looking for something more satisfying than performing a skilled rubdown. In short, her father says, "There were two roads she could go on: chiropractic or rabbinic."

She applied to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. After a few uncomfortable moments -- "One person on the interview committee didn't know what, exactly, a massage therapist did," she recalls -- she was admitted.

The school lasted five grueling years. For relaxation, Jamie began running -- up to one hundred miles at a time. The hobby served to bolster her confidence: "I'd always been good in school, but now I was with the cream of the crop," she says. "I needed to do something that made me feel good about myself."

But she also found that during long training runs, she often slipped into a meditative state that was pretty close to what many people felt while praying. "There was a peacefulness I was able to achieve, moving my body through the woods on a path," she says. "I focus on my breathing, and one of the manifestations of God in the Torah is breath. There's a connection in our teaching between life and soul and breath and God. So, in a way, we are focusing on the divine. Breath is the way we are animated by God."

It began dawning on her that important lines could be drawn between God and sweat and the outdoors. This, she thought, would be particularly true for Jewish young adults who had been very active in their childhood synagogues but had wandered away from the religion after their bas or bar mitzvahs.

"When we seek the ultimate prayer experience, many characteristics are the same: connection to eternity, connection to that which is greater than ourselves," she says. "Yet prayer is very foreign to many people I work with. I ask them if they pray, and they say, 'Yeah, I pray that season tickets will go on sale soon and I'll get one.' So then I say, 'Tell me what you feel when you powder ski.'

"The concept of prayer is dialoguing with something greater than ourselves -- whatever belief that is -- Adonai, or chi, or whatever. For those of us who are big powder skiers, there is an emotional sensation that is the same as prayer and connecting to a higher power. There are people off to the side of you, so there's a connection to others. You're not fighting the mountain; you're going down the fall line, taking whatever it gives you. Not thinking about work or what the Broncos did the week before. Just being in the moment. There's a sense of eternity in that, of peace and connection."

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